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Italy pays its people to go on vacation

Government hopes coupons for in-country travel by Italians will spur economic growth.

The coupon has the goal of supporting what minister Brambilla describes as “social tourism.” When she presented the new vouchers at a press conference in early August, she talked of “high-quality tourism that blends art, history and leisure” saying holidays are “an important moment for relax, physical and mental wellness, social cohesion and cultural enrichment essential in bettering life quality."

In introducing the scheme, Italy is following the example set by other European countries, including France, where the recent introduction of coupons has led to a 5-percent increase in demand for hotels and resorts. Since the release of the first coupons in January, some 7,000 Italian families have taken advantage, generating a domestic tourism revenue of 5.5 million euros ($7 million), according to data from the ministry.

The vouchers might turn into a helpful instrument to recover part of the money Italians have spent in outbound tourism. Quoting data by the Bank of Italy — more than 13.771 billion euros ($17,606 billion) spent by Italians during their vacations abroad in 2009 — Berlusconi’s office posted a note on the government’s website aimed at convincing nationals to spend their holidays (and money) at home in order to support Italy’s economy and not that of other countries.

Some Italians are favorable to the coupon strategy, others not. Daniele Bolgi, a 55-year-old Roman shopkeeper with four kids, says he will not apply for the vouchers and suggests a more direct means of supporting struggling families.

“It would be better if the bonus went in our salary so we could spend it as best we wish," he said.

On the other hand, bank employee Maria Bianchi, a divorced woman with two daughters, plans to go to the seaside in September thanks to the coupons.

“I had to spare money last year but now, with the state helping me, I might afford a week of relax with my family,” she said.